Govt doesn’t care for people on waiting list

SHARE   |   Sunday, 14 September 2014   |   By Dr Boga Manatsha

Last week, I focused on Botswana’s Vision 2016 pillar on ‘prosperous, productive and innovative nation’. I critiqued it in the context of access to and management of land. I argued that for a country to be ‘prosperous and productive’, it needs sustainable investment in all sectors. I emphasised the importance of access to land, a fundamental means of production, in this regard. I concluded that the Vision 2016 booklet provides a sugarcoated theory and nothing more. Yet, I agree that the wording in this booklet is captivating. No wonder some politicians and government officials often cite the Vision pillars with vim and verve. I have also observed with curiosity that ordinary Batswana can easily recite Vision 2016 pillars. Yet most know nothing about the Constitution and the Tribal Land Act (TLA). I remind Batswana that no matter how much they can recite this Vision, it will remain a useless document unless genuine and sincere interventions are made. This vision must work concomitantly with the Constitution and the TLA, especially in resource (land) management. It fares badly in this regard. Some do not like to hear this. I will tell them- loud and clear. In my column, I attempt to be unsophisticated so that ordinary Batswana can comprehend my submissions. 

This week, I extend my critique of the Vision 2016. I focus on this pillar: ‘a compassionate, just and caring nation’. I relate them to land. All these words evoke empathy or sympathy. They suggest a social justice oriented thinking on the part of those who drafted the Vision. Ironically, these words are a mockery to those tasked with implementing it. Contemptuously, these words are often used to justify inequality and poverty in a rich country. Some Batswana scholars have argued that sustainable development can only be achieved if development plans are ‘related to the people they [are] attempting to develop’ (Lekorwe 1998:177). Similarly, Kottak (1985) argues, persuasively, that ‘The first cultural dimension of development is the local level’. To support this noble view, Pieterse (2001:63) adds that the ‘national culture is next in the line of priorities, followed by the culture of the planners’. In Botswana, out of undisguised stubbornness, elitism, exclusion, indifference and ineptness, the reverse is the norm. Here, the so-called national culture, touted as necessary, though unfounded, for ‘nation-building’ is the first priority followed by ‘the culture of the planners’. No wonder Commins (1986:133-4) concludes that in Africa, policies ‘are often at odds with the communities they operate in’. In Botswana, a ‘compassionate, just and caring nation’ is far from being achieved. The state is captured by a few elite. The resources (land in particular) are grabbed by a coterie of greedy chaps. This close-knit coalition- operating in tandem with foreign capital- undermines the same Vision it is preaching. Elitist resource management (land) policies and laws are devised ostensibly to gag the masses and swindle them of their land. Sometime, land is repossessed on the basis of ‘national interest’. What is this national interest? Such phrases are used to cow the weak, forcing them into submission or else they face the wrath of being labeled unpatriotic and anti nation-building. 

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Under this pillar, there are four aspects: income distribution, poverty, social safety net, health and HIV and AIDS. Under ‘income distribution’, it is states that ‘By the year 2016, Botswana will have a more equitable income distribution that ensures participation of as many people as possible in its economic success’. It portrays an economy that would be sustainable/just (almost egalitarian). But Botswana’s Gini-Coefficient (the measure of inequality) is 0.64 (making the country amongst the most unequal in the world). We are in 2014, so how do our leaders think that we can reduce this glaring inequality before 2016? Those who have amassed unparalleled wealth out of our land (through elitist land reforms) should redistribute it before 2016. I will then agree that: ‘we are a just, compassionate and caring nation’. As for poverty, the pillar says that ‘by the year 2016, Botswana will have eradicated absolute poverty, so that no part of the country will have people living with incomes below the appropriate poverty datum line’. Officially, poverty rate in Botswana is said to be around 23%. Yet, the figure might be very high owing to high unemployment rate, especially amongst the youth- which is around 40% or more. Similarly, the quick-fix programs so dearly loved by the ruling elite make poverty alleviation, not eradication, a political joke. Under the social safety net, it states that ‘All people will have access to productive resources’. Well, I shall show how insulting this statement is. 

In 2012, in this column, I critiqued the government’s heavy-handedness when dealing with the so-called squatters. Squatters have rights to shelter and land. Their rights should also be understood from a redistributive, retributive and restorative justice. In Botswana, it is ok to formulate land reforms that allow few elites to own 8km x 8km ranches. Yet, it is abominable when people allocate themselves, out of desperation, 20m x 20m residential plots. Who is to blame when people develop squatter settlements? It is the government. In a 2012 article, I focused on Senthumule Ramadeluka squatters in Jwaneng. Their homes (conveniently called shacks) were razed down by the government. They were forcibly relocated to Sese, not far from Jwaneng. Faced with an uncertain future, the so-called squatters ended up renting empty residential plots in Sese.  Their treatment was degrading and inhumane. In 2012, there were other graphic stories detailing the demolishing of squatters across the country. Many people were alarmed. I argued then, and still do, that to leave squatters to occupy land for more than ten years and then decide to demolish on the eleventh year is inhumane and shows moral bankruptcy. The illegal occupation of land can be easily prevented (the government should avail land to the people). Razing down homes is disgusting. It does not, in any way, show any ‘compassion and caring’. Similarly, repossessing masimo is anti-social justice, and shows the ‘uncaring’ attitude on the part of our rulers. I am yet to be convinced that the government is caring about Batswana who have been on waiting list for residential plots for more than two decades. 

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Botswana struggles with both food security and self-sufficiency. Agrarian reforms are not genuinely in the interest of the peasants- they are populist and politically motivated. In principle, the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agricultural Development (ISPAAD), if well executed and monitored, can yield some good results. It has been, unfortunately but intentionally, turned into atlhama ke go jese [spoon feeding]. This goes against sustainable development principles. It does not show any ‘caring’ on the part of the policy makers. In 2013, the President announced at a Kgotla meeting that the government would introduce the quota system (on land allocation). I critiqued this. I berated legislators for failing to coherently debate this issue; most resorted to ‘Third World’ myths. I am convinced that those who claim to represent us have been unjust and uncaring, especially on the land quota model. Our leaders should be concerned when people buy and sell land like magwinya? But they are not. Well, some are part of this scam. 

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The Constitution and the TLA grant Batswana the right to access/own land. So, Batswana should take the government to court for failing to provide them with land. The inability to avail land contradicts the Vision 2016 pillar under scrutiny. Is it just for some people to hold dual grazing land rights? Some land barons (who own ranches acquired through elitist land reforms) still utilise communal grazing pastures. Is it just to wait for thirty years to be allocated land? Is it companionate when people are relocated because certain elites have capital interests in their ancestral lands? Is it just when ancestral land rights are disregarded because of nation-building? Is it just when the government ‘allows’ foreigners to have access to tribal land under dubious means? The buying and selling of tribal land is happening. Why should the government tell me to develop my residential plot within five years? Ownership of land is not a secondary right, but a fundamental human right enshrined in the Constitution. So the TLA section 15 [e] is unjust to pronounce that one has to develop his/her plot within five years. Curiously, the same section [c] states that the ownership of land can be cancelled- ‘the cancellation is necessary for ensuring the fair and just distribution of land among citizens of Botswana’. So, is taking land from one citizen and reallocating it to another ‘fair’ and ‘just’?  It is not. Section 10 [1] of the TLA is clear that the land shall be used to promote ‘economic and social development of all peoples of Botswana’. It is uncaring, unjust and un-compassionate for the Batswana to be expected to recite and envy Vision 2016 when most have never even seen their Constitution nor the TLA. These are very important documents, and Vision 2016 should satisfy them.  



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